The Obama-McCain Polls

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I check in with the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll frequently and think it has been consistently on target. Today, Gallup has Obama and McCain tied at 45% each.
But four days ago, Newsweek had a poll out showing Obama 15 points ahead. Those on TWN who want to help me (and others) understand the basis of this gap would be most appreciated.
I see some close to Obama thinking that he’s got some real distance now but that the race will have its ups and downs, zigs and zags. But if Gallup is right, this is surprisingly neck and neck — even with the American middle class feeling squeezed from so my directions simultaneously.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

22 comments on “The Obama-McCain Polls

  1. Dorothy Dewane says:

    My husband and I fully back the Obama-Biden ticket. Joe Biden is an Olympic Gold choice for
    Vice President. He has been in the Senate longer
    than McCain and has actually dealt with foreign leaders around the world for 30 years.
    Obama and Biden are what this country need to get the U.S. back on track at home and with leaders around the world. The Bush-McCain administration
    has become totally useless and dangerous in every
    category. Democratic leadership is what is absolutely a must now!!!

    Reply

  2. thomasj says:

    The polls that really matter here are the ones you don’t normally see. You have to search them out.
    There’s one that asks voters if they are excited about their candidate, and Obama wins that by a huge margin, something like 70/30.
    The other important one ask whether the country is on the right track, and the answer is overwhelingly no, only about 15% think so. That’s a very stiff headwind for McCain.
    The Gallup poll at the top of this page shows them about even, but that’s with McCain in full attack mode, running lots of ads, and Obama basically not even campaigning yet.
    McCain is out there now because in another week is the Olympics, then the Democratic convention. So McCain will have a long period when he won’t be able to get much attention and he is trying to compensate by going for it now. But this is so far from even the Republican convention, let alone the election, that he is mostly just wasting his money.

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  3. Don says:

    Obama is going to be the Premier Ministre of Europe Community and Hugo Chavez the President of Latin America, good luck guys and we prefer McCain for USA.

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  4. CLMarie says:

    I would disagree that McCain is a personality not a candidate. His positions are out there, just as Obama’s are. Obama is also running as a personality/image: his earlier commercials are touchy feely about being raised by a single mom, making it good at Harvard, sharing his grandparents’ work ethic. NO policy there, just image. Just as some will vote for McCain because he is a POW,or Republican, some will vote for Obama because he is eloquent, or African/American or – or – or… Preferences are not dangerous; blind allegiance to our own biases, and an inability to debate issues is dangerous.
    It would be interesting to see -if such a poll could even be constructed – how many supports could articulate even ONE issue or policy stance by “thier” candidate!

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  5. WigWag says:

    For those who are interested, there is a devastating artcile about Obama’s relationship with Chicago slum lords on the first page of today’s Boston Globe.
    It can be found at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/

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  6. Bartolo says:

    Jim’s point about McCain’s strength being based on his POW status is right, and it was seen in Richard Cohen’s WaPo column this week. Men of a certain age go all wobbly when they think of what they missed/avoided by not going to Viet Nam.

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  7. Linda says:

    Kathleen,
    Thanks for your eloquent and succinct comment. The same also goes for “polls of polls” that are even worse–really meta-analysis comparing apples, oranges, peaches, etc. The devil is in all in the details of the methods that lead to the results. Anyhow none of them will mean much for two more months.

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  8. Kathleen says:

    The gap in the polls is not a mystery… the results of a poll are determined by what questions you ask, the manner in which the questions are asked, and the sample you use. You can design a poll to get the results you want, which in turn, effect public opinion, and in some cases, creates the result you want.

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  9. carsick says:

    Guru,
    Time may have already backed up the outlier.
    here
    LA Times/Bloomberg has Obama with a 12 point lead. No other poll I’ve seen backs up gallup other than their own internal consistency.

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  10. carsick says:

    Guru,
    Time may have already backed up the outlier.
    here
    LA Times?Bloomberg has Obama with a 12 point lead. No other poll I’ve seen backs up gallup other than their own internal consistency.

    Reply

  11. Guru says:

    This is a matter of statistical aberration rather than trend; at least at this point.
    None of the responses above address your questions directly.
    The difference in the two polls is probably twofold:
    1- Sampling. Newsweek and Gallup use different sampling methodology, and thus they end up with different populations. When this happens, polls can have dramatically different results.
    2- Poll Design. Polls are designed by politicos who also understand statistics, and try to eliminate bias in their questioning. However, as a JD/MBA who relies on statistics (in particular game theory), I can confidently say that it is impossible to eliminate bias from a poll.
    Therefore, I think that the Newsweek poll (at least that one particular question) was poorly designed, and unleashed on a rather biased (mathematically, not politically) population.
    There are two things to look at and see if the Newsweek poll was accurate:
    1- Time. If, over the course of the next month, other polls come close (within a valid margin of error) to the Newsweek poll, then they’re vindicated. If not, they’re left holding the outlier bag of polls.
    2- Which polls are the campaigns relying on personally? That is the key. I, for one, have not heard Senator Obama’s campaign rely on the Newsweek poll. This, however, could be my own lack of information.

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  12. citizen says:

    1.538 is a great site…poblano crushed the primary contests, frankly he embarrassed the balance of the industry….
    2. State polling is very strong for obama, especially since most use 2004 turnout for AA and under 35—2% uptick by either group today would have a tremendous impact.
    3. I agree with sentiment regarding the election timeline….november 2nd polling matters.
    4. Any 88 or 90’s state numbers?
    5. Obama is significantly outperforming JK’s 04 numbers with latino’s and evangelicals though i am unsure of the age cross tab….

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  13. Attaturk says:

    I’m no statistician, but the “daily tracking” polls are less accurate than the traditional polls at reflecting the mood of the electorate. At best they might reflect an uptick one way or another.
    I have yet to see a rolling “daily” average between politicians vary nearly as much as the traditional polls and the traditional polls usually end up far closer to results.
    I think the Gallup Daily Poll reflects that Obama’s bounce has probably slowed or stopped, but the traditional polls reflect an Obama lead.

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  14. JohnH says:

    Real Clear Politics tracks the polls, and Gallup’s 6/22-624 poll is an outlier, showing the race tied. The other outlier is Newsweek, which has Obama up 15%. On average Obama is up 6.9%.
    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/polls/
    In the major battleground states, Obama is up in all but Florida and North Carolina. At this point RCP considers that 238 electoral votes are for Obama, 163 for McCain, and 137 tossups. Intrade puts Obama’s odds at 64%.
    You have to wonder: what’s the point of showing the image of a poll that’s an outlier?

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  15. Steve Clemons says:

    Great comments and suggestions all. I like that 538 website….thanks for the reference,
    steve

    Reply

  16. Karl says:

    Steve,
    If you want a reasonable, balanced take on the election then you should try to make
    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/
    a daily read.
    The guy nailed most of the Democratic primaries using a combination of polls, demographics and historical trend.
    Either use that site or Pollster.com who average out the polls.
    http://www.pollster.com/08-US-Pres-GE-MvO.php
    Both I think are much more accurate then a single daily tracking poll.
    Obama right now has a lead of about 5 points nationally. He is ahead in all the Kerry states, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and Virgina. That’s enough to win.
    He’s ahead but not enough to get cocky.

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  17. Chris Andersen says:

    The problem with comparing any election with a previous years election is that the comparison almost inevitably starts influencing our perceptions of current events in order to make it fit the comparison. We emphasize evidence that backs it up and discount evidence that disproves it.
    We saw this a lot in 2004 with the media narrative that Dean was McGovern. Now we are seeing this again with Obama being compared to Dukakis.
    The problem is that Obama and Dukakis are very different people with very different campaign styles. Can anyone honestly say, looking at the way Obama campaigned in the primaries, that he will make the same kind of mistakes Dukakis did?
    He may still make mistakes. But they will be his own mistakes.

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  18. WigWag says:

    More proof that Jim and Linda are right, polls in June don’t matter and are not predictive:
    Gallup June 24, 1992 General Election Poll
    Ross Perot 34%, George Bush 32%, Bill Clinton 24%
    Actually being ahead in June in the last few elections seems to be a predictor for losing. Obama should be happy that he’s tied with McCain.

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  19. WigWag says:

    For what it’s worth (which is probably nothing), on June 20, 2004 the Gallup Tracking Poll had Kerry leading Bush 48 percent to 44 percent.

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  20. Jim says:

    My own feeling is that polls don’t really matter until after the
    conventions. That said, I think Gallup has been showing this
    race closer than all other polls for weeks now.
    As for surprising: McCain is not a candidate, he is a personality.
    He’s not judged by his positions or his proposals, but by his
    forty-year-old history as a POW. Not to denigrate it, but being
    shot down as a junior officer in southeast Asia in the sixties
    does not mean that he has any expertise on foreign policy,
    especially (as he sometimes seems determined to prove) with
    regard to the Middle East.
    The deference shown to McCain by the political media, which he
    himself has acknowledged as his base, is not just annoying, it’s
    potentially dangerous.
    (and I have to say, it’s not just the press: I have two uncles and a
    cousin, the uncles a few years older than McCain, draftees, the
    cousin thirty years younger and never having served–all three
    will vote for McCain because he was a POW. They are deaf to all
    other information about him)

    Reply

  21. WigWag says:

    So far, this race looks eerily reminiscent of the 1988 race (Bush v. Dukakis). At this point in the race, prior to the conventions, most polls showed Dukakis with a 10-12 point lead on Bush.
    But the Democratic race was not an easy one in 1988. That was the year that Gary Hart pulled out because of the Donna Rice scandal and Mario Cuomo (after his amazing key note speech at the 1984 convention) decided at the last minute not to run. Joe Biden was part of the field (as he was this year) but pulled out after he was caught plagerizing a speech from British Labor Party Leader, Niel Kinnock (the Dukakis campaign later admitted to leaking this). Dukakis ran against Dick Gebhardt who won the Iowa caucuses and Al Gore. On Super Tuesday, Dukakis won 6 races, Al Gore won 5 races, Jesse Jackson won 5 races (including South Carolina, which Bill Clinton was lambasted for mentioning this year) and Dick Gebhardt won one primary. The Democrats emerged from their convention as divided as they had been in years. Sound familiar?
    As everyone knows, despite a huge lead in the polls in the late spring and early summer, Dukakis lost big time. Bush won 40 states and Dukakis only 10.
    Bush decided that because he was an “older” candidate, he needed a younger vice president. Remind you of anyone? That’s how we ended up with Dan Quayle. When Quayle was selected, John McCain famously made this comment ” I can’t believe a guy that handsome wouldn’t have some impact.”
    Donna Brazile was involved with the Dukakis campaign as she is involved with this one. His campaign suffered a setback when she resigned after she was caught spreading rumors that Bush was having an extramarital affair with Jennifer Fitzgerald, who had been his secretary throughout the 1970s.”
    What turned the corner for Bush? He accused Dukakis of being too liberal; we will surely hear that refrain again. He accused Dukakis of being inexperienced in defense policy and foreign affairs. Dukakis made things worse with his ridiculous appearance on an M1 Abrams. (How will Obama look on his upcoming trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan?)
    There was the famous death penalty question where Dukakis wouldn’t answer whether he would favor the death penalty for the perpetrator if his wife or daughter were raped or murdered. And of course, 1988 was the year of Willie Horton.
    There are man differences between 2008 and 1988. There’s no incumbent Vice President running and the current president (unlike Reagan) is universally despised.
    One thing is probably the same now as it was then. Polls of the popular vote in June, 2008 probably don’t mean a thing. On the other hand, state by state polls of the electoral vote might mean something and in these polls, Obama is in good but not great shape. As it always does in modern times; three states will decide this election; PA, FL OH. Whichever candidate wins 2 of those 3 states wins.

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  22. Linda says:

    Steve,
    Polls don’t mean much until after the conventions. My cousin, the poli sci prof, told me years ago to listen to Charlie Cook–and he tends to be very balanced in his analysis. So ask Charlie.

    Reply

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